by Jordan Roberts
Director of Government Affairs, John Locke Foundation
We live in a world where data privacy is so important because of how many devices collect individual data. There is probably no more important area for data privacy than health care. Our patient records and medical history have incredibly sensitive data for each individual that everyone should want to keep private.
Keeping tabs on one’s health record can have serious implications. One’s medical history is an important condition for future procedures. Keeping up with medical records can also have a significant effect on aggregate health spending. Sometimes health records can reveal answers that a doctor may not have known absent a health record.
The answer to this problem is to figure out the best way for patients to control their medical records instead of giving them over to large medical systems or health insurance companies. We are not close to creating the proper way for patients to be in control of their health data. However, one method that policymakers should not consider for this issue is a Unique Patient Identifier (UPI), or National Patient ID.
The UPI is exactly what it sounds like. A UPI would assign a patient number at birth for which the federal government would keep records. This idea was born under the Clinton administration and under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the idea was mandated. At the time, Rep. Ron Paul stopped the UPI from being implemented by including an amendment in the 1999 appropriations bill, which stated that no funds might be used for a UPI.
This was the status quo until House Democrats removed the prohibition in the most recent HHS appropriations bill passed this summer. This action sparked Senator Rand Paul to introduce legislation in the Senate that would repeal the UPI from federal law, a laudable goal.
Democrats want to take away all control and choice Americans have over their health care with a single-payer system. One way to advance that goal of complete government control would be with the UPI.
Why is the UPI such a bad idea? The simple answer is centralization. To centralize all American’s health care information into one federally run system would be catastrophic. The federal government would have access to all American’s medical data and could use it without consent. Individuals other than the physician may be making medical decisions based on the contents on one’s medical record. This would demolish the doctor-patient relationship. Also, the chances for large scale cyber attacks would increase substantially with so much valuable information stored in one place.
For these reasons, I have signed on to a letter to voice my objection to the federal government’s initiative to implement a UPI. The letter is sponsored by the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom and will be sent to the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Richard Shelby. The creation of a UPI would be devastating for the entire health care delivery spectrum. Democrats should cease their support of such a big-government approach to health care data.
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